No one can expect Brad Holmes will be able to repair the lifeless Detroit Lions roster left behind by Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia in one draft, but after a strong showing, they appear to be well on their way.
In Detroit, the new regime entered the draft with a clear plan to rebuild this organization from the ground up. After peeling back, all the layers of the onion, Holmes decided to focus on rebuilding the team from the trenches out.
Although the Detroit Lions produced the 13th ranked offensive line during the 2020 season, the top lineman in the draft fell right into Detroit’s lap with the seventh overall pick. Penei Sewell will help bolster Detroit’s O-line and is expected to start at right tackle from day one opposite Taylor Decker, joining Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, and likely Hal Vaitai. The selection should propel the already solid O-line into a top-five unit across the league.
Holmes then adding a pair of interior defensive linemen with the teams’ next two selections drafting the very outspoken Levi Onwuzurike out of Washington. When Lions head coach Dan Campbell spoke about biting knee caps during his introductory press conference, this is exactly the type of player he had been referencing.
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Like Sewell, Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 college season due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The defensive tackle is a run-stopper inside and in 2019 earned all Pac-12 honors.
The Detroit Lions followed that up by selecting another interior defensive lineman selecting one of my draft crushes, Alim McNeill. McNeill is a prototypical nose tackle that is expected to start on day one for the Lions. McNeill projects as a three-down lineman who has displayed plenty of bend and athleticism for a big man. McNeill is 6-foot-2 but tips the scales around 320-pounds.
After loading up in the trenches, the Detroit Lions began to address a plethora of positional needs.
With the 101st pick in the third round, a pick the organization added in the Matthew Stafford trade selected corner Ifeatu Melifonwu. The lanky 6-foot-2 Melifonwu played his college ball in Syracuse and is expected to push for one of the starting outside corner jobs throughout the summer.
The Lions addressed a glaring need early on in the third day of the draft selecting a potential starting receiver with the 112th overall pick. Detroit landed USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, who will bring some much-needed versatility to a bleak receiver room.
St. Brown can play outside or in the slot, plus he has a knack for making the tough catch. St. Brown can adjust and track the football while it’s in the air. He’s an above-average route runner and is expected to play a significant role for the receiver-needy Lions in 2021.
Also, a huge bonus when watching clips of the USC pass-catcher is St. Brown’s willingness to block and it really stands out.
In 2019 the talented receiver snagged 77 balls totaling 1,042 yards and six touchdowns. He’d follow that up in 2020 with 478 yards making 41 grabs hauling in a whopping seven touchdowns in six games.
Immediately after making the 112th selection, the Lions traded up to pick no. 113 in a deal with the Panthers to select linebacker Derrick Barnes out of Purdue.
Barnes is a versatile defender that spent time as a rush linebacker that transitioned inside when the Boilermaker defense had a need. Barnes, a three-year college starter, totaled 226 tackles, 25 for a loss plus 10.5 sacks and an interception.
I expect the Detroit Lions will use Barnes inside on first and second down and likely slide him over into a pass-rushing role coming off the edge in third-down situations. I expect Alex Anzalone to enter the game on third down coverage situations, so this may be when Barnes comes off the field during his rookie season.
The Detroit Lions landed the third last pick of the draft in that deal with Carolina to get Barnes; they used the pick on running back Jermar Jefferson from Oregon State.
Jefferson will bring some much-needed thump to the Lions backfield in a depth role. Jefferson is also expected to chip in on special teams if he’s able to avoid the practice squad and remain on the active roster through the season.
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The 5-foot-10, 220-pound back averaged 6.5 yards per carry last season, totaling 858 yards and seven touchdowns last season in six games.